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May 12, 2008

Future Shock

Monday Ten Pack

by Kevin Goldstein

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Peter Bourjos, CF, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Angels)
A sixth-round pick in 2005 out of an Arizona high school, Bourjos showed plenty of promise in his full-season debut last year, but it was cut short by a finger injury. The Angels praise his tools, especially his excellent speed, and he's making great strides this year in translating that athleticism into baseball skills in the California League. With a 9-for-14 weekend that including five runs scores and four stolen bases, the 21-year-old outfielder is now batting .354/.388/.492 while succeeding on 23 of his 25 stolen base attempts in 32 games. He still needs to tighten up his plate discipline in order to fit in as a leadoff man at the big league level, but as the son of a scout, the team hopes that his feel for the game with allow for that skill to develop in the long run.

Koby Clemens, C, High-A Salem (Astros)
When the Astros selected Clemens in the eighth round of the 2005 draft, it was seen as a bit of a nepotism pick in deference to his famous father, as most saw Clemens as the kind of player who would have been best served by developing his game in college. Coming into the year with career averages of .251/.341/.398 after two straight years spent in Low-A, Clemens' prospect light was dimming, but his bat has come alive this year, and a move to catcher significantly brightens his future. Clemens with 3-for-4 with a double and a home run on Friday, and is now hitting a surprising .326/.400/.558 while making great strides behind the plate; he's utilizing his plus arm strength to gun down more the 40 percent of opposing base stealers. Don't forget, that he's doing all of this while dealing with the kind of press attention that players in the Carolina League rarely have to deal with. All in all, a very impressive showing.

Todd Frazier, 1B/OF, High-A Sarasota (Reds)
Frazier proved to be far too good for the Midwest League by batting .321/.402/.598 for Dayton, which earned him a move up to the Florida State League just 30 games into the season. While he went 0-for-7 in his first two Sunshine State games, he got going again on Saturday by going 3-for-4 with a double and a home run. Frazier's ability to hit has never really been in question since his high school days; his setup and swing are a bit funky, but they clearly work for him, and he's rarely struggled. The real question has been his defense; he played shortstop in college and early in his pro career, but he's clearly not suited to play up the middle in the majors, but all of a sudden he's playing only first base and left field. That's a massive slide across the breadth of the defensive spectrum, and if it sticks, it's nearly impossible for it not to hinder his projection. A hitter like Frazier as a third baseman is an outstanding prospect; as a first baseman, he's merely good.

Drew Naylor, rhp, Low-A Lakewood (Phillies)
Don't know the name? Maybe you should, because he's suddenly the new minor league strikeout leader. A 22-year-old Australian, Naylor entered the season a bit of an unknown, but he's putting himself on the map with six straight quality starts, including an 11-strikeout performance last week, and then his best start of the year on Saturday night--a complete-game two-hitter with 12 strikeouts against just one walk--lowering his ERA to 2.04 in 53 innings with 62 strikeouts and just 34 hits allowed. Naylor is an interesting player from a scouting level, as he has no dominant offering, but plenty of good ones. His fastball has average velocity and good movement, his curveball and change are both above average, and all of his pitches play up because of excellent command. His relative baseball inexperience makes him a little old for the level, but he should be in the Florida State League soon.

Shane Robinson, OF, Double-A Springfield (Cardinals)
A fifth-round pick in 2006, Robinson put up some ridiculous numbers at Florida State, but that happens pretty much every year in that ballpark--and, yes, that's a warning to those thinking about taking Buster Posey with the top pick this year. He's small and not gifted with a ton of tools, and he runs well but he's hardly a burner... mostly, he's just a guy who focuses on working the count and making contact. Entering the season with a career batting line of .268/.335/.338, Robinson has basically gone nuts in the Texas League this year, and is currently on a six-game multi-hit streak in which he's gone 15-for-26. In 32 games, Robinson is hitting a back-to-college-esque .434/.469/.628, but he'll have to keep it up for a while before scouts are able to look past the five-foot-nine, 160-pound frame, little power, and a weak arm.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Double-A Tennessee (Cubs)
Samardzija had a pretty impressive spring training, leaving the more optimistic types among the Cubs media predicting a breakthrough season and a chance that he could be in the big leagues by the end of the year--thus fully justifying the absolutely ridiculous amount of money the Cubs threw his way. With seven shutout innings in his second start of the year, the hype train rolled on, but it's come to a screeching halt since. On Saturday night, Samardzija had his worst start of the year, giving up seven runs before getting pulled in the third inning, an outing which raised his ERA to 4.81. A quick look at his peripherals shows that there's still plenty of work to be done. Despite pure power stuff, Samardzija has struck out three or less in five of his eight starts, and on the season has issued more walks (24) than strikeouts (23) in 39 1/3 innings, while showing a disturbing fly-ball tendency. Scouts remain utterly baffled as to what to make of him.

Travis Snider, OF, Double-A New Hampshire (Blue Jays)
Promoted to Double-A in his second full season after less than three weeks in the Florida State League, Snider looked severely overmatched, going 5-for-37 with 22 strikeouts in his first ten games for the Fisher Cats. A word of warning to the Easter League: he's starting to get the hang of it. During a weekend series with New Britain, the top prospect in the Toronto system had a two-run double and three walks on Friday, smacked a home run on Saturday, and added two more hits on Sunday to begin digging out of the deep hole he put himself in and raise his averages to .176/.325/.324. Just 20 years old, expect those numbers to trend upwards; a September big league audition is still in the realm of possibilities.

Michael Taylor, OF, Low-A Lakewood (Phillies)
During his high school days at Florida, Taylor was a monster, standing six-foot-six and 250 pounds and featuring plenty of athleticism for his size; only a firm commitment to Stanford prevented him from being drafted. His college career was disappointing, but many in the scouting industry didn't put the majority of blame on Taylor, they put it on a Stanford program that has a reputation for creating hitting clones, forcing most players into a quick, single-plane hitting mechanic that frankly just doesn't work for everyone. Still in love with his potential, the Phillies made him a fifth-round pick last year, and allowed him to return to his natural swing. So far that's more than paying off, as the monstrous right fielder has homered in four straight games to raise his averages to .333/.410/.524 in 33 games for the BlueClaws. When you are looking for sleepers in the minors, you'd be best served by betting on tools, so put some chips down on Taylor.

Cory VanAllen, LHP, Double-A Harrisburg (Nationals)
A fifth-round pick out of Baylor in 2006, VanAllen's body, left-handedness, and stuff provided plenty of promise, but despite being a college product, he was still and unrefined product, which showed last year when he allowed 145 hits in 113 2/3 IP. Sent to High-A to begin the year, the 23-year-old has taken a major step forward by showing improved movement on his fastball, better off-speed stuff, and improved command. After allowing just two earned runs in five showings for Potomac, the Nats quickly moved him up to Double-A, and the success has continued as on Saturday, he fired seven shutout innings while allowing two hits and striking out eight. The Nationals have a long-term plan to compete based on developing young talent, and VanAllen is starting to put himself into those plans as a dependable back-end starter.

Matt Wieters, C, High-A Frederick (Orioles)
While top hitting prospects like Frazier and Snider have earned quick promotions after hot starts, one is left to wonder what the Orioles are waiting for in Wieters' case, as it's pretty clear that he simply doesn't belong in the Carolina League. With two home runs on Friday and another on Saturday, the switch-hitting backstop is batting .355/.425/.618 in 33 games, and it's not as if his defense is holding him back, as he leads the Carolina League by throwing out 10 of 24 basestealers for a 41.7 percent rate. As the recipient of the largest single-year bonus in draft history, Wieters wasn't given $6 million to entertain fans in small-town Maryland, so expect him in Bowie soon during his brief tour of the state before arriving in Baltimore.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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